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STEVE DESHAZO: Both Batten and Wright go deep at right time
RICHMOND—Seven-footers are great, but talented ones are rare in college basketball—and they don’t stay long. That’s why it’s often better to have a sharpshooter.
Saturday’s inaugural Governor’s Holiday Hoops Classic at the Richmond Coliseum featured a couple of perimeter heroes. One was a guy who’s accustomed to the spotlight; the other broke through at exactly the right time for a team that desperately needed it.
About 2 hours after George Mason’s Sherrod Wright sank his second game-winning shot of the calendar year—a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to sink Richmond 67–64—Old Dominion’s Dmitri Batten lit up Virginia for 20 of his career-high 23 points in a 63–61 stunner.
“We needed an atypical performance out of somebody,” said ODU coach Blaine Taylor, whose 1–10 team dressed only eight healthy players, “and we got one out of Dmitri.”
If Batten’s performance was surprising—he had scored a total of six points combined in his previous four games—Wright’s was not.
Best known for his desperation 30-foot heave that beat VCU on Feb. 15 in Fairfax, Wright kept the Patriots within striking distance in Saturday’s opener. Then, with time running out, Wright took a pass from Corey Edwards and drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key while being bumped by the Spiders’ Greg Robbins.
“I don’t care who’s on the team. I always want the last shot,” Wright said with a smile, then quickly added: “or at least to make a good play at the end of a half or the end of a game. I’ve been blessed.”
And the young Patriots are fortunate to have a guy who craves the spotlight. Wright was content to defer to Colonial Athletic Association player of the year Ryan Pearson last year, even though he authored the
Patriots’ most-memorable play of the season.
This year, on a team without a contributing senior, the junior from Mount Vernon, N.Y., is more of a marked man.
“He’s a great athlete,” Richmond forward Eric Williams said. “Being from New York, I played against him in the AAU circuit. He’s a great player. We paid a lot of attention to him, but he made a great shot.”
He made several. Richmond led nearly the entire way, as Darien Brothers hit two 3-pointers in the game’s first minute (and five straight in the first half). But Wright matched him almost shot for shot, finishing with 22 points, two more than Brothers.
“I thought we executed well,” Spiders coach Chris Mooney said. “ but it’s hard to keep the ball out of his hands. Good players seem to find ways to have those kinds of moments.”
Sometimes, so do less-heralded players like Batten. He and his team were so far under the radar that Virginia’s Joe Harris called him “Ratten” after the game.
But ODU’s coaches know what the redshirt sophomore from Newport News can do—and they don’t hesitate to remind him. Saturday, he justified their faith and delivered what the Monarchs’ veteran head coach called one of his most-satisfying victories in a dozen seasons in Norfolk.
“We’ve been pretty hard on Dmitri the past week or two,” Taylor said “We haven’t gotten out of him what we’d like. We keep saying, ‘Don’t give him any compliments,’ and it seems to work.”
It did Saturday. Batten exploited Virginia’s uncharacteristic defensive lapses to sink four 3-pointers in a 21–4 second-half spurt that put ODU ahead to stay. The first two were relatively uncontested, but even after the Cavaliers paid him more attention, the results were the same.
“Coming into the locker room at halftime, my teammates were saying, ‘Do what you do. Be aggressive,’” Batten said.
Suddenly, the Monarchs’ dreadful season looks a little brighter. So does George Mason’s. It’s amazing what a little hot streak can do for your attitude.
Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443